With much fanfare, Drew Storen has returned to the ninth inning, after the unceremonious departure of Rafael Soriano due to inconsistent mechanics and overall poor performance. Thus far*, the formerly-but-now-current closer has done a bang up job with the ‘promotion’, going a perfect three-for-three in saves and doing so in dominant fashion, facing only the minimum number of batters and amassing seven strikeouts in the process.
As tumultuous 2012 and 2013 seasons become but mere specks in Storen’s and the Washington Nationals’ rearview mirror, talk now returns to the righthander’s devastating repertoire, which has quietly propelled him to a fantastic 1.29/2.79/3.49 ERA/FIP/xFIP slash line and a 11.54 RE24, eighth-best in among National League relievers this season.
There are many variables that could be the cause of Storen’s season of redemption—completely healthy after an elbow procedure to remove bone chips in 2012, an overhaul of his mechanics, which makes him a little quicker to the plate — but one facet of his 2014 that gets discussed ad nauseam is his aforementioned repertoire, which features a four-seam fastball, two-seam/sinker, slider, and an ever-evolving changeup, which Storen has used effectively in recent seasons.
The pitch type linear weight numbers reflect his exceptional stuff, with all of his pitches showing positive values; each pitch, save for his changeup, has also improved this season from last, again highlighting the immense talent bestowed upon his right arm.
With the opportunity to close, Storen has more than answered the bell; however, there are some tantalizing deviations in some of his numbers that find him potentially getting outs in a slightly different fashion as a closer.
|Closer||Pitch Type||Freq||Velo (mph)||pfx Hmov||pfx Vmov||H. Rel (ft.)||V. Rel (ft.)|
Looking at some basic pitch repertoire values and measurements, it appears Storen is getting more vertical movement from his pitches in the ninth as compared to earlier outings. He is also generally going to his slider a lot more as a closer, with a concomitant scrapping of the sinker.
Looking at the results of these pitches, we find closer Storen is throwing his pitches more for strikes, again, except for the changeup. We also find hitters having a more difficult time putting good swings on pitches, reflected in both the foul and whiff rates.
Splitting this data further into batter handedness and count categories, we continue to see these subtle differences in non-closing Storen:
…as compared to Storen, the closer:
One striking difference between the Storen of the ninth and who he was previous is how he uses his slider—righthanders are all but guaranteed to see it with two strikes on them and lefties will be almost assured of seeing it for the first pitch of the at bat. Storen also appears to have gained even more confidence in the changeup, using it more frequently against both lefties and righties across all counts and situations. We also see the aforementioned scrapping of the sinker, most egregiously seen against righties.
As stated before, Storen’s run as closer has been perfect—nine batters up, nine batters dispatched. While it is nice to think that this will continue for the rest of the season, hitters will adjust to these changes and, as such, so will Storen. How will these numbers change?
One way to look at how Storen will perhaps flip the script on hitters is to look at how his pitch selection changed with runners in scoring position as a non-closer, with the assumption that once Storen finally allows a baserunner, the method to his madness might evolve:
Of course these are just tendencies seen over the course of the season and can change as needed or as advance scouting catches up to a particular trend, but should Storen run into a few hits and baserunners, look for him to re-incorporate his fastball, with his slider remaining a viable asset in any count and his changeup being put in his back pocket.
Despite the focus on the changeup, the liberal use of the slider—a pitch that has become even tighter and sharper as a closer, per his PITCHf/x data—could very well be the deciding factor in how he fares in his return to the closer’s role and how deep a playoff run the Nationals make this season.
*data through 9/10/2014 and courtesy of Brooks Baseball
Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score and a contributor at Camden Depot and Gammons Daily. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.